Mexican-Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o, first black president of the jury of the Berlin film festival

Mexican Kenyan Lupita Nyongo first black president of the jury of

The 2024 edition of the Berlinale opens this Thursday, February 15 in the evening in the German capital. It promises to be agitated and the Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o will be the symbol of quiet strength. The first black person to occupy this prestigious position of president of the jury, she will award the Golden Bear and will also represent the openness and political commitment of one of the most important film festivals in the world.

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Small Thinks Like These, this is the name of the highly anticipated opening film of this 74th Berlinale. Directed by Belgian director Tim Mielants and starring Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer), the feature film tells the scandal of the tragic fate of thousands of “fallen” women in Ireland, condemned to forced labor by the Catholic Church.

The Berlinale has always been Germany appears as a political festival and the emblem of committed cinema. However, this year, politics is especially involved in spite of itself. And in the middle of a cocktail which promises to be highly explosive, the Mexican-Kenyan star Lupita Nyong’o, president of the jury, is supposed to watch, with a professional eye and without being influenced by external circumstances, the films in competition .

The Berlinale 2024: a slew of stars and turbulence

First, there was the revelation of the invitation sent to five politicians from Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which ignited the powder. In a country shaken by the strong growth of the far-right party, some members of which had recently claimed responsibility for the mass expulsion of foreigners, hundreds of thousands of Germans took to the streets to demonstrate against far-right ideas and anti-Semitism. After a mobilization of the German cultural community, the Berlinale then disinvited the elected representatives of the AfD at the last moment.

At the same time, the Berlinale feared becoming the victim of a campaign launched by artists (including the Nobel Prize for Literature Annie Ernaux) calling for a boycott of German cultural institutions, accused of being too pro-Israeli and of not giving sufficient voice to Palestinian voices regarding the war in the Gaza Strip.

Then the co-director of the festival, Carlo Chatrian, announced that he was leaving after the 2024 edition, telling the newspaper The world that ” (s)one’s autonomy as a programmer was no longer guaranteed “.

It is therefore in the midst of all this turbulence that Lupita Nyong’o takes office. And despite a slew of stars, from actress Rooney Mara to legend Martin Scorsese to director Hong Sang-soo and his actress Isabelle Huppert or actor Omar Sy, we could almost bet that she will be the one of the most prominent. However, as president of the jury, she must remain calm and at the end deliver her verdict on the films in competition with complete serenity.

Lupita Nyong’o: birth in Mexico, childhood in Kenya, career in the United States

One thing is certain, each appearance of the Oscar-winning actress, famous around the world thanks to her roles in blockbusters, turns into an event. The Mexican-Kenyan star, referred to on several occasions in the past as “ Most beautiful woman in the world » by magazines and in 2020 by Forbes “ among the 50 most powerful women in Africa », embodies glamour, cosmopolitanism and popularity.

Because her father was a visiting professor in Mexico at the time, she was born in Mexico on March 1, 1983, into a family of six children. Lupita, her first name of Spanish origin, is a diminutive of Guadalupe. Returned to Kenyawhere her father was a senator and her mother one of the directors of the African Cancer Foundation, she developed a passion for theater early on and obtained, to her great surprise, at the age of 14 the title role in Romeo and Juliet at the Kenya National Theatre. Her vocation for cinema emerged when she saw The color purple by Steven Spielberg with Whoopi Goldberg: “ It was the first time I saw someone like me on screen “, she told the newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

“12 Years A Slave”, “Black Panther”, “Star Wars”…

She continued her studies in the United States, including a master’s degree in arts at the Yale School of Drama, and in 2008 directed her first film, In My Genes, a documentary on the difficult life of albinos, considered in Kenya as witches. When she did the casting in 2012 for 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen fell in love with her natural and innocent appearance and hired her for the role of a martyred slave, Patsey. The rest is known. With her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, she also became the first Mexican and Kenyan actress to win an Oscar. Afterwards, this woman who speaks five languages, Luo, English, Spanish, Swahili and Italian, will be Nakia, the courageous warrior of Black Panther and will play the character of Maz Kanata in several parts of the saga Star Wars, without forgetting his unique voice lent for the character of Raksha in The jungle Book.

Like Spike Lee, who in 2021 became the first black filmmaker president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, Lupita Nyong’o will therefore be the first black person to occupy this prestigious position at the Berlinale. She will have to decide among 20 films competing for the Golden Bear, several of whose directors have strong links with the African continent. Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako will present, nine years later Timbuktua story of the heart set in the African community of Canton, Black Tea. Canadian-Tunisian director Meryam Joobeur will be in the running with Where we come from, the story of a mother shaken by the departure of her two eldest sons for Islamic jihad. And the Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop was selected for a documentary on the thorny issue of the restitution of the royal treasures of Abomey in Benin, The return. In a certain way, Lupita Nyong’o could also identify with the new work of Frenchman Bruno Dumont, The Empirepresented as a ch’ti version of “Star Wars”.

Elephants and cinema in Africa

Lupita Nyong’o embodies the confidence of a new generation bringing its small stones to the building of a renewed cinema. Even to the #MeToo movement, she made her contribution. In 2017, she declared to the New York Times having twice suffered sexual harassment from a certain Harvey Weinstein… Above all, Lupita Nyong’o does not forget Africa. And she is committed both to the protection of elephants in Kenya and to cinema in Africa. Certainly, the Covid got the better of his project for a mini-series around the cult book Americanah by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but recently she has provided valuable assistance in the production of Goodbye Julia from the Sudanese director Mohamed Kordofani.

In June, his new film will be released in theaters Without a sound: day 1, an apocalypse directed by Michael Sarnoski. In the meantime, Lupita Nyong’o can demonstrate her sense of justice and her combativeness at the Berlinale as president of the jury which will award the Golden Bear on February 25.